Thursday, February 14, 2008

Why Punctuation? Matters

So I'm working on our newsletter at work, editing all the pieces that have been submitted, and I came across the following funny example of why punctuation placement matter so very much.

Please plan on joining us for a wonderful evening of fun good, food and friendship.

All the elements are there (save that I'll change that end bit to serial commas), but I think you'll agree that it doesn't read as intended right now--not that "fun good" isn't something to get together and enjoy, mind you. I know we all see these things all the time, but occasionally, they ring the brain-gong askew. Anybody else run into weird punctuation lately that caused a double-read?

5 comments:

MariAdkins said...

My dear life...

paul lamb said...

Serial commas. So unloved. I always put them in my stuff, but editors tend to take them out.

MariAdkins said...

I use the serial comma. My husband hates them.

Sean M. Murphy said...

I concur. The flag is not "Red" and "White and Blue", which reads like it is solid red with either light blue or a mottled white and blue mixture. It is "Red", "White", and "Blue".

Or, to draw the line a bit more finely, I may very well be going to the theater with "Mary, Jess and John" to see Apocalypse Now, but since Jess happens to be a lesbian and the paired grouping of "Jess and John" can easily be misconstrued as a social pairing, it is more clear, and therefore more correct, to say I'm going to the theater with "Mary, Jess, and John", the latter two of whom, it turns out, are are not a single unit after all.

Another critical test would be to extend that list so that I'm going with ""Mary, Jess and John, Bill, James and Tara." Now Jess and John are clearly a paired unit--so what does that mean for James and Tara? Are they a couple, or not? You were going to bring a girlfriend to introduce to James, but now... maybe you shouldn't? Argh, the confusion! James and his star-crossed lover never meet now, BECAUSE OF A LAZY LACK OF A SINGLE COMMA!!! Oh, The Horror!

Kids, only you can prevent miscommunication.

Sean M. Murphy said...

And yes, before some rapscallion brings it up, I am aware that the confusion would be equally removed if you were to end that list with "...Bill, and James and Tara." I cannot see it reading "Mary, Jess and John, Bill and James and Tara" unless you're going to tell the comma to go hang and make the list read "Mary and Jess and John and Bill and James and Tara"--in which case, Bubba, go make some gumbo.